An Easter Lesson
So, the great Teacher is leaving us with as poignant an Easter message as the one which preceded his own election, though of a very different sort. I will always give thanks to have been around at a time when I could encounter the wonderful mind of Joseph Ratzinger through his works, but it is his example of humility, and frailty which most moved me today. These are things in short supply, as the demented zeal and frenzied, narcissistic delight of Benedict's detractors showed at what they clearly view as his demise. They forget that the Pope is the successor of a man believed to have gone to his death on a cross, in mental payment for that man's love of, and guilt at the denial of, a still greater man.
We see the cross and see a symbol of glory coterminous with God; the mystery is that it was intended by its civilised employers as an instrument of torture and denigration. It is through the literal contempt of those mired in the shadows of this world that we become brighter than we believe ourselves to be.
I have no clue who would succeed him, and give about as much credence to the fevered explanations from armchair pundits of why he resigned as I do to the Malachi 'prophecy' or to the chances of Father Dougal Maguire. I notice, however, what the humble autodemission of the Pope means, on multiple levels. Joseph Ratzinger has saved the Church from the suffering, maladministration and indiscipline which sadly results from the decline of a papacy. He has also, whilst preserving the special quality of the Petrine Ministry, placed the other Patriarchs a little nearer Rome, advancing what should be our common desire to end this awful schism which rents the orthodox and catholic halves of the great Church of God. After all, if he can be a man, just as Greeks are, and resign, just as Greeks do, are they really still to be offended by the historic prominence and claims of the West? It all seems so much more human now.
Finally, the Pope joins, and will always be remembered in the company of, a small number of men who resigned to save their souls and the Church. He leaves an example for a society obsessed with the getting of power of how to lay it down gracefully. I admire that so much, too.
Pope Benedict's waxing and waning, for personal reasons which I do not wish to go into, mark out a special period of my life, which began and ended in bizarrely similar circumstances. When he was announced, I was tutoring a Chinese woman in economics in the living room of my flat in Oxford; when he resigned, I was explaining a macroeconomic point to two others in a room in London. Between those two moments, much water, as they say, has flowed.
There are days when I wish to sink to my knees and pray because of the depravity and stupidity to which I feel exposed by the most minor of things. When I feel like this, I think sometimes--often--of those brave, clever men who gamble their all and sacrifice their life to an idea of God and a deposit of faith which might remain, for the span of their earthly life, untouchable except for the strength of their conviction. I aspired to just a part of it. I knew that in my German Shepherd, Ich hatt einen kamaraden.
As he proceeds into the last leg of his life, I will pray for Benedict, and forever be grateful for the man who was, and remains for a time, the Commander of my Faith. I wish him many days of earned rest with the sun on his face, before he goes to the House of Our Father.